Great numbers of the least

Joseph Stalin reportedly said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” and there’s a lot of truth to that statement. In the last week I’ve been reminded of a lot of numbers. I’m going to spout a few of them at you in the next couple of paragraphs but please know that the numbers are not the focus.

On Saturday I attended a training seminar at our local World Relief center ( Did you know there are 43.7 MILLION refugees in the world? Eighty percent of them are women and children.

On the radio last week I listened to an interview with Kathi Macias, an author who has written a fiction series on sex slave trafficking around the globe. More than 27 million slaves live in our world now. Two million of them are children exploited in the sex slave trade. This trade touches nearly every single country in the world and has a very real presence in the United States—not just in cities but in small towns as well ( (

On Saturday night—and again on Sunday—I spent time with Wilfred Rugumba, who is very special to our family. Wilfred is the director of the orphanage where Patrick, our youngest, lived before becoming an Underwood ( Wilfred reminded me that there are between 143 and 210 million orphans in the world. The number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa is greater than the total number of children in Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Canada, and Sweden.

Those are overwhelming statistics! Obviously they overlap—a lot. Many of those refugees are also orphans. Many orphans are the ones abducted into the slave trade. But regardless of how you slice and dice it, it adds up to a lot of people. A lot of hurting people.

Sometimes I can forget these numbers. I can go for a few days, a week, maybe two without actively remembering that every minute people are being abused, sold, orphaned, displaced, and widowed. There have been other times in my life, though, when I have felt paralyzed by the thought of the vicious evil being done in any given moment.

It is in those moments when I have been reminded that God NEVER forgets. I CAN forget. I can get wrapped up in my days that are filled with activity. But God never forgets. If He knows the number of hairs on my head, He certainly knows the numbers of those being abused and exploited. He knows exactly how many stomachs are hungry. He knows how many children are wailing or dazed with grief over dead parents. And they are not just numbers to Him. They are faces, hearts, and souls to Him! And He is present in their pain. He is there when the young girl or boy is sold for sex. He is there when the widow watches her child grow listless and blank-eyed because hunger has dulled everything. He sees every village that is marauded for political or ethnic reasons.

He was there during the Armenian massacres, and there during the Holocaust and there during the Rwandan and Cambodian and Bosnian genocides and others we don’t even know about. He is in Darfur today.

And He is not untouched.

My God, what a heart You must have! We cannot blame you for these atrocities—though we try. These are crimes we commit against each other, crimes we allow because we are too concerned with our own safety and status quo to be bothered. But You are bothered. I know that with our present-day, developed-world mentality, we tend to ask questions like, “How could a loving God judge our world? How could a loving God hold us to account when we cannot see Him?” But even if God did not hold us guilty for how we have forgotten and disrespected HIM, we would stand condemned for how we have disrespected and abused and ignored His image that is seen so clearly in the children of the world. In fact, some moments, when I read about atrocities done to children and defenseless women and oppressed people groups, I think, “How do you hold back, God? How do you keep from not just wiping us completely off the face of the earth?” Even with the Western, rights-focused bent that I must fight for the rest of my life, I am more amazed by His mercy in those moments than offended by His judgment.

Yet He has not wiped out. He has given grace. He continues to love His Western, privileged church even when we fail miserably at being His hands and feet to the oppressed. He allows me to approach Him daily, hourly with my comparatively small frustrations and complaints.

I am amazed by this God. I am humbled by this God.

And I pray that these two attitudes—amazement and humility—will lead my heart and my hands and my feet into becoming more and more like His.

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